How to best use home/road splits to craft your fantasy lineup
As April turned into May, a lot of people were wondering what had happened to Mark Teixeira. The new Yankees first baseman had expected to be an offensive juggernaut, and yet, there he was hanging out in Mario Mendoza's neighborhood. However, since then, Tex has been unstoppable. A quick look at the splits clearly outlines Teixeira's Jekyll and Hyde start to 2009.
Some people were quick to point out that Teixeira has always been a slow starter, and certainly his career stats would support this argument -- a .249 average in April with 22 home runs and 74 RBIs gives way to a May of .295 hitting with nearly twice as much run production, 39 home runs and 142 RBIs. Still, what intrigued me more was that mystery statistic in the chart above: the percentage of games that the Yankees played at home during each month. With more chances to hit in the wind tunnel that is the new Yankee Stadium, is it any wonder that Mark Teixeira was able to rebound so well from his early-season issues? A quick look at his home/road splits shows that perhaps it's not a matter of "time", but rather a matter of "place."
However, what seems to be working for this particular Yankee isn't necessarily the case for the rest of his team. As a unit, the Yankees' lineup is actually hitting a little bit better on the road, with a .284 average and 159 runs scored, compared to a .272 average and 162 runs scored at home -- only three more runs despite 22 more home runs. So while playing in Yankee Stadium doesn't appear to be the home-field advantage that it seemed to be on first blush, I wondered if there were teams that actually performed significantly better on a regular basis at home than on the road (or vice versa) from a fantasy point of view. And in fact, indeed there are.
First, let's take a look at a new stat "Home Advantage" from the point of view of hitters. This stat is derived by adding up the difference in batting average at home versus on the road and the difference in slugging percentage at home versus the road. The higher numbers indicate teams that love that home cooking. Lower numbers are also helpful in identifying those lineups that simply do better away from the scrutiny of the home fans. This can be very useful in helping to decide what players to start or sit when the team has either an extended homestand or road trip in the coming week of play. The Braves and the Mets are coming to Baltimore? Start Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. The White Sox aren't going to be home again until June 23? Say hello to Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko.
|Team|| Best Home|
|Team|| Worst Home|
Meanwhile, pitchers are also affected by the ballpark in which they're pitching. For pitching staffs, the "Home Advantage" is determined by combining the difference in team ERA at home and on the road with the difference in batting average allowed. (This second number is then multiplied by 50 because the two statistics are not based on the same percentage scale. The entire total is then multiplied by -1.) Based on these numbers, John Lannan is not necessarily a pitcher you'd want to use at Tampa Bay, and you may want to wait until Arizona gets to Kansas City to give Jon Garland a call.
|Team|| Best Home|
|Team|| Worst Home|
|New York Mets||2.94||NY Yankees||-1.93|
Now you have one more factor to consider when using these team splits as a fantasy owner, and that's the fact that teams don't simply alternate home and away games. The schedule is a bit more clustered than that, and some teams have definitely seen a bit more travel time than others already this season. As a result, for these teams, the rest of the season has a little bit more weight added to either the home or road side of the ledger. Let's take a look at what that might mean for each of these "unbalanced" squads, through games of June 8.
Early-season Road Warriors
Colorado (Home games: 23, Road games: 34): As a team, the Rockies are second in home runs and slugging percentage in the National League, without even taking full advantage of Coors Field. That's more than enough reason not to give up on the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and Garrett Atkins just yet. However, from a pitching standpoint, perhaps it's time to get what you can from the 8-4 Jason Marquis.
Milwaukee (Home: 25, Road: 32): From a hitting standpoint, the Brewers are pretty much the same wherever they play. Perhaps they hit for a slightly higher average at home, but for not as much power. In the end, though, it's essentially a wash. Pitching on the other hand, has been far more effective in Miller Park. So expect better stats from Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra and Braden Looper from this point forward.
Cleveland (Home: 26, Road: 33): Sell, sell, sell! At home, the Tribe is hitting only .248, as compared with a .284 average on the road. Factor in all those strikeouts, all those injuries and their place at the bottom of the AL Central standings, and it's time to cut bait. The pitching is fairly even, performing slightly better at home, but with the run support not as good at Progressive Field, what you see is what you get.
Boston (Home: 26, Road: 31): The Red Sox are hitting nearly 40 points higher at home, and have almost as many total bases as they do on the road, despite playing five fewer games. Eight of their next 11 games are at Fenway Park, so now's the time to take advantage of the expected increase in offense. And surprisingly, the pitching has been better at home, too, making this the time to own Tim Wakefield & Co.
Early-season Home Boys
Arizona (Home games: 31, Road games: 27): It's no surprise that Chase Field is once again at the top of ESPN's Park Factors in terms of favoring the hitters. But with the Diamondbacks in the middle of a stretch in which they're playing 12 of the next 18 games on the road, it's going to be a rough time for Arizona hitters. However, that also means you should be able to continue to ride the success of Dan Haren and to gamble on the arms of Max Scherzer and Doug Davis to be able to "do it themselves" for the next few weeks.
Houston (Home: 31, Road: 25): The Astros are pretty much the same no matter where they take the field, so the schedule breakdown actually doesn't matter much to us one way or the other. So if you were already thinking of selling high on Miguel Tejada, and buying low on Roy Oswalt, we're not going to say anything here that's going to change your mind.
Minnesota (Home: 33, Road: 26): The Twins, on the other hand, are a lot more formidable when playing at home. They are 21-12 at the Metrodome while only a sad 7-19 elsewhere. Still, young outfielders Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez have performed better far from the Hefty Bag and Joe Mauer can hit anywhere he swings the bat. As for pitching, the "Home Advantage" is nonexistent, an exact zero.
St. Louis (Home: 34, Road: 24): The Cardinals exhibit slightly better numbers at home, both from their batters and their pitchers. However, apart from Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter, there's nothing else exciting here. You might want to have Chris Duncan instead of Ryan Ludwick, or maybe show more confidence in Todd Wellemeyer over Joel Pineiro, based on their personal splits, but when it comes to comparing Cardinals to players from other teams, it's a big bucket of mediocre.
AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.